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Milton among the lawyers (was: cases)

From:John Cowan <jcowan@...>
Date:Thursday, September 14, 2000, 14:05
Lars Henrik Mathiesen wrote:

> English is a whore. As long as you know what is meant, almost any word > order can seem 'not ungrammatical.' Cf. poets.
And even when ungrammatical is, acceptable still may be, marginally at least. There is a theory that Milton's convoluted and Latinate syntax is an attempt to serve two incompatible purposes simultaneously: getting the imagery in the right order, and being grammatical. (Sometimes the second goal is sacrificed to the first.) Paradise Lost 1-16 parses as a single sentence: Of Man's first disobedience, and the fruit Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste Brought death into the world, and all our woe, With loss of Eden, till one greater man Restore us, and regain the blissful seat, Sing, Heavenly Muse, that, on the secret top Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire That shepherd who first taught the chosen seed In the beginning how the heavens and earth Rose out of chaos: or, if Sion hill Delight thee more, and Siloa's brook that flowed Fast by the oracle of God, I thence Invoke thy aid to my adventurous song, That with no middle flight intends to soar Above th' Aonian mount, while it pursues Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme. The first five lines are an imperative verbal phrase with its object: "sing of disobedience and the fruit" is its skeleton. But thematically, it is right that "disobedience", "fruit of that forbidden tree", "death", "woe", "restore" and other such keywords appear before the conventional epic opening "Sing, heavenly Muse".
> My unfounded opinion is that abuses like that were invented by lawyers > for their own sordid purpose of impenetrability, and that readers of > English have simply been inured to their wrongness by long exposure.
Lawyers (at least in anglophone countries) are stuck between a rock and a hard place. They multiply words to attempt to block ambiguous interpretations, but end up creating them. ObConlang: in Lojban this is the problem of long tanru (open compounds): the more words you add, the more specific is your intent --- but the more flexibility of interpretation becomes possible. -- There is / one art || John Cowan <jcowan@...> no more / no less || to do / all things || with art- / lessness \\ -- Piet Hein